In Small Places

Part of the Global Perspectives on War and Peace Collection.

0:00Copy video clip URL Chuck Olin introduces his piece on human rights abuses in Guatemala. “When it comes to human rights around the world, the odds have always favored the abusers. They have the political power, they have the money, they have the land, and, as we saw in Beijing, they have the tanks. And yet despite those odds, there seems to be something in the world, something about the human rights movement, that’s persistent, powerful, and growing. The human rights movement worldwide is made up of the thousands of stories, in countless small places, involving individuals fighting to get their rights back. Guatemala has one of the worst human rights records in the world, and the worst in this hemisphere.  With 100,000 people killed and 40,000 disappeared in the last decade alone. We’ve been following one story, about the struggle for human rights, in the highlands of Guatemala.”

0:47Copy video clip URL In Small Places. April, 1989. Over shots of rural farm life, a debate plays out between General Ortega, speaking for the Guatemalan government, and Amilcar Mendez, speaking on behalf of those suffering political repression. This segment focuses on the issue of men around the countryside being forced to join “voluntary” civil patrols under the threat of death.

2:22Copy video clip URL Mendez, who runs a human rights complaints office in Santa Cruz, explains that peasants have been traveling for up to two days to come to his office, often borrowing money or selling corn or chickens to pay their way. We see Mendez writing down the stories of the men who have come to see him. General Ortega claims that the men who associate with Mendez are a small group of people who are uneducated or have little understanding of the democratic system of government. He says that these men are an unfortunate byproduct of a democratic society that allows free speech. Meanwhile, Mendez hands out copies of the Guatemalan constitution, which explicitly states that citizens cannot be compelled to form civil defense patrols against their will.

4:12Copy video clip URL Mendez: “We are still living in a militarized society, which has terrible repercussions for the members of our organization.” Various people tell of men who have been disappeared.

5:46Copy video clip URL Mendez: “We have hope. And that, we cannot lose. We have it despite the restrictions, despite the fact that each day the barricades of terror are stronger in Guatemala. And despite the fact that each day, the political spaces are closing. We have to fight, because we don’t have that space. We must risk ourselves, we must sacrifice, for a better Guatemala.”



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